Tuesday, September 26, 2017

WHY DOESN'T THE POPE ANSWER HIS CRITICS?




Why Doesn’t the Pope Answer His Critics?
September 26, 2017 by Fr. Dwight Longenecker


This week’s big Catholic news is the release of a “filial correction” of Pope Francis by a group of theologians and church laymen. Edward Pentin reports on it here:

This is the sixth major initiative in which both clergy and laity have expressed concerns about the Pope’s teaching, particularly emanating from Amoris Laetitia. Despite the repeated pleas and warnings of chaos and confusion, Francis has refused to respond or acknowledge the initiatives which are as follows, in chronological order:

  • In September 2015, just ahead of the second Synod on the Family, a petition of nearly 800,000 signatures from individuals and associations around the world including 202 prelates was presented to Pope Francis, calling on him to issue words of clarity on the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. The signatories, from 178 countries, expressed concern about “widespread confusion” arising from the possibility that “a breach” had been opened within the Church at the previous synod.

  • In July 2016, a group of 45 Catholic scholars, prelates and clergy sent an appeal to the College of Cardinals asking that they petition Pope Francis to “repudiate” what they saw as “erroneous propositions” contained in Amoris Laetitia. They said the apostolic exhortation contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”

  • On Sept. 19, 2016, four cardinals — Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandm├╝ller, Raymond Burke, and Joachim Meisner — presented the Pope with dubiafive questions on disputed passages of Amoris Laetitia with the aim of obtaining clarification and resolving confusion over diverse interpretations of the controversial passages among various bishops and episcopal conferences. The Pope did not acknowledge the dubia, nor did he respond to the cardinals’ request for an audience in May.

  • In February this year, confraternities representing thousands of priests worldwide issued a statement saying a clarification of Amoris Laetitia was “clearly needed” in the wake of “widespread” differing interpretations of the apostolic exhortation. They also thanked the four cardinals for submitting the dubia.
  • In April this year, six lay scholars from different parts of the world held a conference in Rome in which they drew attention to the same controversial passages of Amoris Laetitia, showing the extent of concern and unease among the laity over the papal document and its interpretation.
The Pope’s response seems to ignore and marginalize his critics. For many this is surprising since Pope Francis has always spoken passionately about the need to listen to others and engage in dialogue. It is also surprising since Austen Ivereigh–Pope Francis’ biographer–has claimed repeatedly that Pope Francis “welcomes criticism.”

However, I think people need to understand some of the underlying currents in this discussion. The elephant in the nave is the yawning gap between the views of contemporary theologians and ordinary Catholics.

People in the pew probably do not know that many theologians and clergy are critical of what they call “propositional faith.” Propositional faith is a faith that is grounded in rational statements and definitions. It is, if you like a religion based in an authoritative book, a creed, a catechism, a dogmatic systematic theology and, by extension a defined religious law. Those who favor a propositional faith like certainty and clarity.

Critics of propositional faith believe that, at best, the propositions are simply a framework or structure of belief, and that the real experience is far more complicated, but also far more exciting and real. They criticize those who like a propositional faith as being rigid, legalistic or Pharisaical. The critics of propositional faith like to emphasize the more subjective “encounter with Christ.” They advocate getting away from all the debates about doctrine or canon law, rolling up one’s sleeves and getting busy doing God’s work in the world.

Critics of propositional faith also believe that it is divisive. If “the encounter with Christ” is emphasized rather than propositional formulas of doctrine and morals, we will connect better with non Catholic Christians and people of faith and goodwill who are outside the boundaries of Christian belief. In other words, “doctrine is divisive” but if we focus on religious experience we are more likely to find common ground.

They also feel that a “propositional faith” is, by its nature, bound to the historical and philosophical constructs of the time and culture in which the propositions were asserted. So, the theology of Thomas Aquinas (they would argue) was fine for Europe of the thirteenth century, but it is rather clunky for the fast moving, fast changing global culture of the twenty first century. A faith that is not so propositional is more adaptable and fluid.

In reading the gospel it is difficult not to sympathize with those who criticize “propositional faith.” After all, Jesus’ main opponents were the religious people who were indeed legalistic, judgmental and bound to their laws and man made traditions. Jesus, on the other hand, waded in and “made a mess” to use Francis’ terminology. He defied the legalistic technicalities, met people where they were and brought healing, compassion and forgiveness.

Why does Pope Francis not answer his critics? I believe it is because he is not in favor of “propositional faith”. He wants Catholics to move beyond the technicalities, the details of doctrine and the constrictions of canon law to live out a Catholic life more like Jesus’–allowing for the complications and ambiguities of real life, meeting real people who face difficult decisions and are trying to be close to God while tiptoeing through the legalities and rules of being a Catholic Christian.

In other words, he does not answer his critics because he does not wish to play their game. He does not wish to be drawn into their legalistic arguments, but instead wants to continue to challenge them. That is why he lets his ambiguous statements stand without further clarification. That is why he does not answer the “corrections” he receives. I expect he believes the teaching of the church is clear. He has not contradicted it, so there is no further need for discussion and debate.

Instead he wants us to live with the ambiguities and get on with the complicated business of bringing Jesus to people who are tied up in the sometimes messy business of life.

As a pastor I understand this and am sympathetic to what I believe Pope Francis is trying to do.
However, there is always the other side of the argument and balance is a good thing and a good pastor knows that, because of their personality type, certain of his flock are going to need certainty, re-assurance and clarity of teaching. Instead of. marginalizing them, he will provide clarity of teaching while still challenging them not to rely on propositional statements alone or to take refuge in the seeming security of doctrinal statements and “clear moral teaching.”

While it is important for the Pope to exhibit Jesus’ way of ministering in the world, it is also part of the Pope’s job to define and defend the faith, and for Catholics part of this experience of encountering Christ is a clear and unambiguous definition of historic faith and morals.

Pope Francis is fond of criticizing the Catholics who are rigid and bound by a legalistic approach, but in my experience these sorts of Catholics are few and far between. The vast majority of Catholics I work with are ordinary folks who are not stupid even if they are not theologically educated. They understand the need for clear teaching in doctrine and morals, but they also understand that life is complicated and the work of the church is to minister Christ’s love in complex situations.

In fact, rather than the problem being an excess of legalistic, propositionally bound Catholics, in the USA the Catholic Church is besieged with the opposite problem. The majority of Catholics are poorly catechized and far from being bound by doctrine and moral teachings they are mostly ignorant of these things and what doctrine and moral teachings they have absorbed are largely ignored.
My own take on this, therefore, is that I understand the need for the “encounter with Christ” as opposed to a faith that is merely propositional, but I also believe that without a clear affirmation of the propositions of our faith, the “encounter with Christ” becomes no more than a subjective religious experience.

Both are needed, and an analogy I have often used is that of the vine and the trellis. The vine is what matters. It is a living, growing, fruitful gift. A vine needs a trellis to grow and reach the sun and bear good fruit.

The vine is the faith–the encounter with Christ–the real experience and adventure of living the Christian life. The trellis is the doctrinal and moral propositions that support the vine, but the trellis, being a dead thing needs constant maintenance and repair if it is to support the vine and a good pastor knows that, because of their personality type, certain of his flock are going to need certainty, re-assurance and clarity of teaching. Instead of. marginalizing them, he will provide clarity of teaching while still challenging them not to rely on propositional statements alone or to take refuge in the seeming security of doctrinal statements and “clear moral teaching.” While it is important for the Pope to exhibit Jesus’ way of ministering in the world, it is also part of the Pope’s job to define and defend the faith, and for Catholics part of this experience of encountering Christ is a clear and unambiguous definition of historic faith and morals.

Pope Francis is fond of criticizing the Catholics who are rigid and bound by a legalistic approach, but in my experience these sorts of Catholics are few and far between. The vast majority of Catholics I work with are ordinary folks who are not stupid even if they are not theologically educated. They understand the need for clear teaching in doctrine and morals, but they also understand that life is complicated and the work of the church is to minister Christ’s love in complex situations.

In fact, rather than the problem being an excess of legalistic, propositionally bound Catholics, in the USA the Catholic Church is besieged with the opposite problem. The majority of Catholics are poorly catechized and far from being bound by doctrine and moral teachings they are mostly ignorant of these things and what doctrine and moral teachings they have absorbed are largely ignored.

My own take on this, therefore, is that I understand the need for the “encounter with Christ” as opposed to a faith that is merely propositional, but I also believe that without a clear affirmation of the propositions of our faith, the “encounter with Christ” becomes no more than a subjective religious experience.

Both are needed, and an analogy I have often used is that of the vine and the trellis.
The vine is what matters. It is a living, growing, fruitful gift. A vine needs a trellis to grow and reach the sun and bear good fruit.

The vine is the faith–the encounter with Christ–the real experience and adventure of living the Christian life. The trellis is the doctrinal and moral propositions that support the vine, but the trellis, being a dead thing needs constant maintenance and repair if it is to support the vine.




Thursday, September 21, 2017



     
INCORRECT STATEMENT ON PURPOSE?


On the ordination of Fr. David Jones of St Joseph Missouri the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kansas City – St Joseph, Most Rev. Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr, issued a misleading statement being published  each parish throughout the Dioceses. In this statement he stated that Fr. Jones was an Old Catholic priest and therefore not an apostolically valid Priest.  This is not true. The North American Old Roman Catholic Church – Archdiocese of California and its clergy are recognized by Rome as a true “Particular Church with verifiable apostolic linage and a valid Eucharist”

An Open letter to Bishop Johnston was published on Facebook and a certified letter was sent to his office.  The open letter is publish here. The content of the certified letter will be published following a respectable period awaiting Bishop Johnston’s reply.
 
 
 
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OPEN LETTER TO THE MOST REV. JAMES V. JOHNSTON, BISHOP OF KANSAS CITY.

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
The Catholic Center
20 West Ninth Street
Kansas City, MO 64105    
                                                          
              September 4, 2017

Your Excellency,

I take this opportunity to correspond with you concerning what I consider to be a most blatant Libel of one of our priests and total misconception presented to the public in reference to the North American Old Roman Catholic Church – Archdiocese of California. Your printed statement alluded that Fr. David Jones in a non-valid priest of the Old Catholic Church. I quote from your Cathedral Bulletin of September 3, 2017:

There has been local news coverage about David Jones, formerly employed at St. James Catholic Church in St. Joseph, who was ordained a minister in the Old Catholic Church. The Old Catholic Church is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, Roman Catholics are not permitted to receive communion in this denomination.”

First, this jurisdiction in not a part of the Old Catholic church and has never been in communion or correspondence with any other such denomination. The North American Old Roman Catholic Church – Archdiocese of California is an autonomous, apostolically valid Catholic jurisdiction and its priests recognized by Rome as possessing valid apostolic orders. In the Archdioceses history, never has there been a woman ordained nor will this Archdiocese ever ordain such. This same probation extends also to those who serve or assist in the mass.

Second, at no time has Fr. Jones ever been employed by St James Catholic Church. Any work performed at that parish was solely of a volunteer nature and not one penny given him for his services.

Third and most important, The Archdiocese of California is recognized as meeting in the Declaration “Dominus Jesus” issued by the Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith” on August 6, 2000 those essential elements of a “True Particular Church”. For your reference, I quote below.

“…[chapter] IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church…[paragraph number] 17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, since they do not accept the [Roman] Catholic doctrine of the Primacy [of the Pope].”

It is universally accepted should a Catholic parishioner be unable to attend mass where they are the requirement for mass is acceptable as having been fulfilled worship at an Archdiocese of California parish.

I would share with you that every one of our priests in the Canon of the Mass pray for the Holy Father in each mass offered. It is our Archdiocese’s continued goal to seek sacramental reconciliation with the Holy See. Only then can we fulfill our Saviors prayer, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

It is our sincere hope that you will speedily rectify the invalid information put forth by your Diocese at all levels.
In Christ,

+ Bob

Most Rev. Bobby C. Hall, DD
Auxiliary Bishop




Friday, January 13, 2017

Cardinal Burk comments on "Amoris Laetitia".





 Cardinal Burk in a recent interview commented on Pope Francis issuing of Amoris Laetitia,” and its effect on the morality of the church

Cardinal Burke: On dubia, I’m more concerned about Last Judgment than losing my title 

January 12, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Raymond Burke has again insisted that the four cardinals behind the “Amoris Laetitia dubia are doing their Catholic duty in seeking clarity from Pope Francis regarding his ideas on Catholic Church teaching on marriage and the Eucharist.

In a new interview in the Italian newspaper LaVerita, Cardinal Burke notes that there are many more than the four Cardinals who are concerned about Amoris Laetitia, and also says there is no specific timeline for a formal correction.

For the cardinal’s part, on judgment day he would rather be able to stand in good conscience before God than take up concern today over the potential political repercussions against the cardinals for making the request of the pope.

While the idea has been floated that Cardinals Burke, Caffara, Meisner and Brandmueller could, or should, be demoted by Pope Francis — losing their cardinal rank — for what some mistake as disrespect in submitting the dubia, the thought neither troubles nor deters Cardinal Burke. “I don't even think about it,” he said. “I mean, certainly, it's possible. It's happened, historically, that a cardinal has lost his title. But I don't think about it because I know what my duty is and I can't be distracted from it by these kinds of thoughts – you know, worrying about whether I’m going to be in some way persecuted for defending the truth.”

Cardinal Burke said he has been asked directly whether he is afraid to make an issue in this matter, responding that what he feared instead was having the wrong answer for God on the question of whether he’d defended the Lord and His teaching at the end of his life.

The cardinal stated, “And I said that what I'm afraid of is to have to appear before Our Lord at the Last Judgment and having to say to Him: ‘No, I didn't defend You when You were being attacked, the truth that You taught was being betrayed.’ And so, I just don't give it any thought.”

Critics of Amoris Laetitia have faced loud pushback from Pope Francis' defenders, but while there are those who question or criticize the cardinals for submitting the dubia,  many others are insisting that this was, in fact, their duty.

Ed Pentin, the respected Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Register, points out this week that there were in fact 30 Cardinals who submitted concerns to the Pope after getting a pre-release copy of Amoris Laetitia.

In the interview with LaVerita, translated by Andrew Guernsey, Cardinal Burke clarifies that there is “absolutely no deadline” on doing the formal correction of the Pope. He suggests that his former comments to LifeSite indicated that it could not happen until after Epiphany.

Moreover, the Cardinal said there is no disagreement among the four Cardinals. "In fact, I never said that a public confrontation ought to occur,” he said. “I agree with Cardinal Brandm├╝ller, the first step would be to ask for a private meeting with the Holy Father to point out to him the unacceptable statements in Amoris Laetitia, showing how, in one way or another, they are not adequate to express what the Church has always taught."

In a recent interview with The Remnant, Cardinal Burke stressed the need to publicly present the dubia. He said that not raising the concerns would lead Catholics to believe that everything is OK in the Church when it certainly is not.“But, no, that’s not sufficient (accepting ambiguity because it came from the pope),” Cardinal Burke explained. “Because everywhere I go — and I travel a lot now — everywhere I go people are saying: 'What's wrong with you Cardinals? There are these serious questions, and yet you remain silent. You don't say anything.'"

“And they’re correct,” he continued. “If we were to remain silent, it would most definitely give the idea to the faithful that everything is fine. But everything is not fine.”


Top of Form

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lord, You know every thing; You know that I love You.


Dr John Macquarrie (1919-2007) was a Scottish theologian and philosopher. Originally ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, he became an Anglican in 1962. In 1965 he was ordained to the priesthood. He is best known as a key existential theologian. Among his many works are Principles of Christian Theology (1966), Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1991) and Mary for All Christians (1991) Macquarrie was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford from 1970 until his retirement in 1986. He was a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. The following is an extract from To be a Priest, pp. 147-153, edited by Robert E. Terwilliger and Urban T. Holmes, Seabury Press, New York, 1975. Macquarrie's words are still relevant today, especially that so many people now seem to regard the priesthood primarily in terms of roles and functions.

We live in the age of functional man. That is to say, a man or woman is considered in terms of what he or she does. A man, for example, is a train driver or a bank clerk. Of course, no one is a driver or a clerk all the time. But then we speak of roles, and this too is a functional term. When the bank clerk comes home at night, he lays aside his working role and takes up the roles of husband and father. What we seem afraid to do is ever to come to the person himself, the person who in some sense remains identical through the many roles and functions, the person who not only does things but is someone. Perhaps indeed we have come to doubt whether there is a personal reality, for in the depersonalized world of today we act much of the time as if people were nothing but the sums or aggregates of changing functions and roles. Gabriel Marcel has said that one of the diseases of our time is the loss of the ontological sense. Man has become so absorbed in what he does that he no longer has any sense of who he is.

There is, of course, some truth in the idea of functional man. It is through our deeds and decisions that we become persons, and what we do makes us who we are. But the human reality is not exhausted by the functions which any individual performs.

Surely the Christian minister in particular is more than his functions. We can list his various roles and functions-he is servant, proclaimer, priest; he preaches, baptizes, presides at the Eucharist; he does many things besides. But it makes sense to ask: Who is it that appears in these roles and performs these functions? Daniel Day Williams made the point when he wrote: "Vocation is more than a role; it is a life dedicated and a responsibility assumed. No one should be playing a role at the point where ultimate things are at stake."(1)


If ministry were merely a role or a collection of functions, then there might seem to be no need for a distinctive ordained ministry in the Church, and this idea has an appeal in our egalitarian age. The Church would consist, so to speak, of modular Christians, any one of whom might be fitted into the appropriate functional slot. Certainly, everyone recognizes that some functions need training and preparation and that not everyone could get up and preach. But is presidency at the Eucharist, for instance, merely performing the function of reciting certain words and doing certain acts, so that any Christian who is literate and has had a little practice could do this as well as anyone else? Or is there more to it? Is there a deeper connection between ministry and presiding at the Eucharist than can be expressed by terms like "role" and "function"? Or again, can this particular function be separated and considered in isolation from that whole constellation of functions which constitute the work of an ordained minister?

I think there is much more to ministry and priesthood than the fulfilling of roles and functions. R.C.Moberly expressed the matter thuss:

"There are not only priestly functions or priestly prerogatives; there is also a priestly spirit and a priestly heart-more vital to the true reality of priesthood than any mere performance of priestly functions. Now this priestly spirit is not the exclusive possession of the ordained ministry; it is the spirit of the priestly Church. But those who are ordained 'priests' are bound to be eminently leaders and representatives of this priestliness of spirit, and they have assigned to them an external sphere and professional duties which constitute a special opportunity, and a charisma of grace which constitutes a special call and a special capacity for its exercise. Such opportunity and call are inseparable from the oversight of the Christian community to Godward, and they are as wide as is the life of the Christian body. Leadership in eucharistic worship, truly understood, is its highest typical expression . . . but eucharistic leadership, truly understood, involves many corollaries of spirit and life." (2)

It is not meant that the ordained minister is somehow better or more inward or more spiritual than his lay brothers and sisters. But within the order and economy of the Church he is distinct, for he has received a special call, accepted a special responsibility, and been given in ordination a special grace to strengthen him. When we remember that ministry is a grace or gift bestowed by Christ, we shall not be in danger of thinking that the ordained ministry is a superior caste in the Church. The ordained ministry owes everything to Christ-it is indeed Christ's ministry embodied in a certain way. This is recognized by the Church's teaching that the validity of a sacrament does not depend on the personal worthiness of the priest. Christ himself is the true minister or every sacrament, and the unworthiness of the human agent cannot void Christ's bestowal of grace. Of course, this was never intended to suggest that the minister's worthiness or unworthiness is a matter of indifference! Effectual priesthood demands not just the doing of the priestly act but being a priest in union with the great high priest, Jesus Christ. The traditional word used by theologians to designate the peculiar being or status of the ordained priest, that which underlies and unites his various roles and functions and finds expression in them, is the word "character." This is not a popular word at the present time. To those whose minds are pragmatic, empirical, analytic, the idea of character may seem just a mystification. They feel safer in dealing with functional man.

Now I do not deny that the traditional doctrine of a priestly character was often described in categories which nowadays we judge to have been too metaphysical and impersonal for describing the kind of phenomenon which is here in question. To some extent, this may excuse the impatience with the idea of character found in some modern writers on ministry. Anthony Harvey, for instance, brusquely dismisses the idea of character as something that "can find no place" in his account of ministry.(3)

But it cannot be so quickly dismissed, nor is a merely functional approach adequate in the least. The contemporary theologian has got to find more up-to-date and personal categories in which to express the abiding truth in the idea of priestly character.

In its literal sense, the Greek word charakter signified the distinctive mark made by a seal or die or similar instrument. The word is used only once in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Jesus Christ is said to be "the express image of God's person" or, alternatively translated, "the very stamp of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3). In modern usage, the word "character" has developed a great many meanings, but for our purpose we shall take our clues mainly from ethical usage, for there is a close parallel between the ethical idea of character and the theological idea.

The parallel emerges right away, because just as we have seen that there are two views of the ministry standing in some tension, the functional view concerned primarily with what the minister does and the ontological view concerned with who he is, so there have long been two types of ethical theory, the one understanding morality chiefly in terms of rules, commandments, acts, overt behavior, the other understanding the moral life more in terms of virtue and the formation of moral persons or even communities. It is no accident that the morality of command and act has, in the specific area of Christian ethics, flourished chiefly among Protestants, while Catholic moral theologians have been preoccupied with the ethics of virtue. Likewise, many Protestant theologians tend to view ministry in a functional way, while such ideas as priestly character and formation have dominated Catholic thinking.

But although the two approaches have often been in tension, my own view is that in both ethics and theology they are finally complementary The merely functional approach is superficial and fails to do justice the personal reality, but it is not canceled out by the ontological understanding of the matter; rather, it is given depth and cohesion.

How then does a modern ethicist think of character? Clearly, character is not a thing or a special faculty. It is more like a pattern, traceable in a person's behavior and showing elements of directionality and consistency. Stanley Hauerwas, author of one of the best recent studies of the subject, writes: "The clearest example of character is one in which a life is dominated by one all-consuming purpose or direction."(4) This would be an extreme case, and there can be strong characters where there are many purposes and interests, provided these are brought into unity by an "ultimate concern" (to borrow Tillich's useful expression) giving, as it were, a recognizable set to the agent's policies.

But although character is a pattern discernible in action and built up in action, it is not just an adjective or product of action. On the contrary, character produces some actions rather than others, for it is constituted by the value judgments and priorities of the agent, and is hardly to be distinguished from the agent himself.

It is clear that character cannot be acquired in a moment. It needs formation, and that may take a long time. Once character has been formed, it introduces a pattern of stability and reliability into life, but this does not mean an end to growth. Character deepens and develops in the face of new problems.

Where does character come from? Obviously it has several sources. There is the given genetic inheritance of every individual, his innate propensities, capacities, weaknesses. This is the raw material of character. Within limits, it determines what it is possible for one to become. But this raw material is plastic and has many possibilities inherent in it. Next, there is everything that happens to a person from outside. There are the accidents of his own history, and these may have good or bad influence. There is the impact of his culture, and none of us can help absorbing many of the beliefs and value judgments of contemporary society. There is the important factor of education, the systematic training of mind and spirit. These three influences that come from outside we may call the passive elements in character formation. But there is also an active factor. To some extent, each one of us chooses to be the kind of person that he or she is. We strive to realize an ideal self of our own choosing. Finally, to the factors already mentioned, the Christian would add divine grace. He believes that the attainment of character is not just an accident of birth or environment or the fruit of unaided human struggle, but that prayer, the sacraments, and life in the Christian community are of supreme importance.

The foregoing discussion relates to character in general from the standpoint of ethical theory. What light does it throw on the theological concept of priestly character? We shall answer this question by considering the steps by which one enters the ordained ministry. These can be understood as steps in the formation of special types of character.

First there is vocation, the calling of God. Priesthood is a gift, it is not something we choose for ourselves. When a priest is asked: "What made you decide to enter the ministry?" he may very likely reply that he hardly knows. He may only be able to say that at some time he felt a calling. The call to the ministry is a special case or an extension of the mystery of election, which all Christians have known to some extent. It is that inner constraint, that claim of God, that fascination with Christ which lays hold upon one and draws one on, perhaps at first unwillingly. The call to the ministry is an extension of election, the summons to a new relationship. Already the experience of this calling has its ontological consequence and has begun to shape the character of the one who is called; for no one who has known such a call can ever be quite the same again.

Next, God's call elicits the human response. Character is formed not only by what comes from outside but by our own active pursuit of an ideal, and this is true of priestly character. It requires the dedication and self-giving of the one who is called. We have seen that character is formed when one is devoted to an "ultimate concern." The coming of God's kingdom in the world, and the service of that kingdom, become the focal interest of the Christian minister and give the distinctive set to his character. There is also the negative side. To choose one thing means to renounce other things. The ordination vows speak not only of what is to be chosen and done, but also of "laying aside the study of the world and the flesh." Sacrifice is a necessary element in the priestly character. In consenting to become this kind of person and to let his character be formed around the focus of serving God's kingdom, the priest must make renunciations.

I think there are different permissible interpretations of what this focusing and its accompanying renunciations will mean in priesthood. The Church will always need some whose intense dedication will lead them to celibacy and the severing of all ties that might seem to them to be obstacles to their vocation. Others believe that the priestly character can be formed in lives that are more diversified and cover a broader segment of human interests, including marriage and the family. Still others -and perhaps an increasing number-will combine priesthood with a secular occupation. I believe that all these styles are possible, provided always that there is that fundamental orientation toward the calling of God, the orientation that is a major factor in the formation of the priestly character.

Priesthood is a lifelong vocation and a lifelong commitment, and indeed it takes a lifetime for the full flowering of priestly character. The formation of this character becomes an irreversible process, and this is what is meant by the traditional language about the "indelibility" of the character. But we live nowadays in a time when many are unwilling to make lifelong commitments, whether in vocation or marriage or other ways. Should there then be temporary ordinations? This question must be answered in the negative. A temporary priesthood would be conceivable only on a purely functional view; it is impossible on the deeper conception which I am trying to expound. But what is possible is a temporary commitment to particular forms or styles of ministry. I said the Church will always need some ministers who will dedicate themselves with an exclusive intensity that eschews all worldly ties. Surely there are in the Church today young priests who might be willing to promise that for five years they would not marry, they would live on a minimal wage, they would serve wherever the Church needed them. Such a corps of utterly dedicated young priests could become the shock troops of the Church and might accomplish much in evangelism and renewal.

Vocation and response do not happen just between an individual and God, but in the context of the Church, which tests the calling of the individual, judges his fitness, and provides the training he needs. It is this period of formation that is of vital importance in the making of a priest, and though priestly character is ontological, it is in no sense magical. This is no place to raise the vast questions relating to the training of ministers, but whatever else is done, it is essential that there should be formed a character marked by devotion to God and his kingdom, openness and responsiveness to others, and inward strength of spirit.

I have still to mention something else. Vocation, response, formation in the Church culminate in ordination, with its gift of sacramental grace. God commits himself to his ministers, and this is more important than their commitment to what is, from the human point of view, an impossible vocation. Priests sin like other human beings, but God keeps recalling them, electing them again to be his representatives in the assembly of his people. And this process goes on in the years after ordination. Character does not fall ready-made from heaven at ordination or any other time, but it deepens through this life and beyond.

I have stressed priestly character as a distinctive gift for those who are called to a distinctive ministry, but finally I want to come back to the point that all this happens in the context of the Church. The distinctive ministries are closely related with the general ministry of the whole Church. Thus we have seen that calling to the priesthood has affinity with the mystery of election that touches every Christian, and we could also say that priestly character is a special development of the character which originates in baptism. The general ministry of the Church and the distinctive ordained ministry are closely related because they are both modes of sharing in the ministry of Christ himself, but they are different modes of sharing. There is distinction without separation within the indivisible body of the Church, which will be all the stronger and better equipped for its mission if we are careful neither to break up what is common to all ministry nor to blur what is distinctive. For this ministry is Christ's gift to his Church for the sanctifying of his people and, indeed, of the whole creation, that he may present it blameless to the Father.

Notes

1. D. D. Williams, The Minister and the Care of Souls (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 103.

2. R. C. Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood (London: John Murray, 1910), p. 261.

3. A.E. Harvey, Priest or President? (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1975, pp 49-50.

4. S. Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life (San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 1975), p. 119.